I Won't Back Down

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"I Won't Back Down"
TP - I Wont Back Down single.jpg
Single by Tom Petty
from the album Full Moon Fever
B-side "The Apartment Song"
"Don't Treat Me Like a Stranger" (12" and CD single only)
Released April 1989 (1989-04)
  • 7"
  • 12"
  • cassette
  • CD
Recorded 1988
Genre Heartland rock
Length 2:59
Label MCA
Tom Petty singles chronology
"All Mixed Up"
"I Won't Back Down"
"Runnin' Down a Dream"
Full Moon Fever track listing
Music sample

"I Won't Back Down" is the first single from Tom Petty's first solo album, Full Moon Fever released in 1989. The song was written by Petty and Jeff Lynne, his writing partner for the album. It reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Album Rock Tracks chart for five weeks, starting the album's road to multi-platinum status.

Background and writing[edit]

Petty recalled the recording of this song to Mojo magazine: "At the session George Harrison sang and played the guitar. I had a terrible cold that day, and George went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had me stick my head in the pot to get the ginger steam to open up my sinuses, and then I ran in and did the take."[1]


A message of defiance against unnamed forces of difficulty and possibly oppression, the lyric is set against a mid-tempo beat:

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin' me around
but I'll stand my ground, and I won't back down

Due to its themes, the song was played often on American radio following the September 11 attacks.[2] Petty and the Heartbreakers played a quiet but resolute version of the song at the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon following the 2001 attacks.[2][3]

In the 2007 documentary Runnin' Down a Dream, Petty said that he felt some initial hesitation about releasing the song, given its clear and unabashed message.[4]

Music video[edit]

The music video, directed by David Leland, was shot on March 22 and 23, 1989 on a sound stage at Pinewood Studios and released on April 24, 1989. Traveling Wilburys bandmates George Harrison and Jeff Lynne appear in the video. Mike Campbell and Harrison's former Beatles bandmate Ringo Starr are also featured in the video[5] along with George's famous painted Stratocaster "Rocky." Starr is depicted in the video as playing the drums on the song, though in reality, drumming was performed by Phil Jones.

Agreement with Sam Smith[edit]

In January 2015, it was revealed that an agreement had been reached whereby Petty and Jeff Lynne would be credited as co-writers of Sam Smith's song "Stay with Me" and receive 12.5% of its royalties. Petty's publishing company had contacted Smith's publisher after noticing a likeness between "Stay with Me" and "I Won't Back Down". [6] Petty clarified that he did not believe Smith plagiarized him, saying "All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam's people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement".[7][8] Smith claimed he had never heard "I Won't Back Down" before he wrote "Stay with Me",[9] but he acknowledged the similarity after listening to the song, and said that the likeness was "a complete coincidence".[10][11] Petty and Lynne were not eligible for a Grammy Award ("Stay with Me" was nominated for three awards at the 57th annual ceremony, winning two of them) as the Recording Academy considered "Stay with Me" to have been interpolated from "I Won't Back Down" by Smith, James Napier, and William Phillips, the writers of "Stay with Me"; Petty and Lynne were instead given certificates to honor their participation in the work, as is usual for writers of sampled or interpolated work.[12]



Chart (1989) Peak
Canadian RPM Top Singles 5
German Singles Chart 66
New Zealand Singles Chart 49
UK Singles Chart 28
US Billboard Hot 100 12
US Billboard Album Rock Tracks 1
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 29
US Cash Box Top 100 Singles 11

Use in political campaigns[edit]

George W. Bush used "I Won't Back Down" at campaign events during the 2000 presidential campaign but was compelled to stop using the song after receiving a cease and desist letter from Petty's publisher. Petty did not want the use of his song to be construed as an endorsement of candidate Bush. Jim Webb used the song for his successful bid for one of Virginia's U.S. Senate seats in 2006, as did Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. The song was also used at campaign events for Congressman Ron Paul of Texas during the 2008 Republican presidential primary campaign, as well as for events for his Campaign for Liberty. The song was also played at an event for Republican Connecticut gubernatorial nominee, Tom Foley. The song was also played at the 2012 Democratic National Convention after speech delivered by President Bill Clinton, in which current President Barack Obama came out on stage to salute him.

Use in sports campaigns[edit]

The Ottawa Senators used the song as a campaign anthem in December 1990 at their presentation to be awarded an NHL franchise at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The unlikely bid received unanimous support from the NHL and the franchise was awarded on December 6, 1990.[13] The Johnny Cash cover has also been used for a Rogers Sportsnet advertising campaign for the 2010-2011 NHL season.[14]

The song was used as the walkout song for the Australian Rugby League club the Melbourne Storm from 1999-2007.

It was also used as the slogan for the TCU Horned Frogs during the 2009 season, and incorporated in to their merchandise during the year.[15]

It is also the walkout song for former UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.

Pro wrestlers Chris Adams and Bobby Blaze has used the song as their entrance theme.

Undefeated Greek Welterweight contender Billy "The Bad Nord" Nikolakopoulos also uses it as his walkout song in his MMA fights.

All appearances[edit]

The song was also released as downloadable content for Rock Band 2

Cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Snow, Mat. "Tom Petty interview". MOJO. January 2010 (194). Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  2. ^ a b Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen (September 22, 2001). "Mariah Carey, Springsteen, Other Stars Sing For America On Telethon". MTV News. 
  3. ^ Bill Crandall (September 24, 2001). "Artists Rise Up for America". Rolling Stone. 
  4. ^ Peter Bogdanovich (director) (2007). Runnin' Down a Dream (Documentary). Event occurs at 2:43:25. Of all the songs I've written I think I get the most feedback about that song. And it is a personal song – when I did it I sort of thought that I laid it out, you know, with no ambiguity at all – like I just said it very plainly – and I kind of felt nervous about it like maybe I should take it back and disguise it a little bit, but I'm glad I didn't – and it's very much like me. 
  5. ^ Strictly limited edition 7" single cover (MCA 1334)
  6. ^ "Sam Smith: Tom Petty given writing credit for Stay with Me". BBC News. 
  7. ^ Kreps, Daniel (2015-01-29). "Tom Petty on Sam Smith Settlement: 'No Hard Feelings. These Things Happen'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2015-01-31. 
  8. ^ Lac, J. Freedom du (9 February 2015). "The only person Sam Smith didn't thank at the Grammys deserves a lot of credit" – via washingtonpost.com. 
  9. ^ "Sam Smith explains why he settled copyright dispute with Tom Petty". CBC. Feb 7, 2015. 
  10. ^ Copland, Chris (25 January 2015). "Tom Petty awarded songwriting royalties for Sam Smith's "Stay With Me"". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "Sam Smith: Tom Petty given writing credit for Stay With Me". BBC. January 27, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  12. ^ Randall Roberts (January 26, 2015). "Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne added to credits of Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'". Los Angeles Times. 
  13. ^ "These are the Ottawa Senators you know". Ottawa Citizen. December 5, 2005. Retrieved April 10, 2012. Firestone turned 39 the day before the bid presentation. Leeder and Sexton, boyhood hockey pals from Brockville, were 31. Waiting in a holding room, feeling a little like caged animals, the group got psyched up the way athletes do, by listening to inspiring music. In this case, it was the theme song of their mission -- Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down". 
  14. ^ Canucks Won't Back Down on YouTube
  15. ^ Evans, Thayer (November 14, 2009). "T.C.U. Fans Are Singing Football Coach's Praises". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]